What is love if not uprooting yourself to follow impossibilities
crossing seas and skies
to hollow futures
吃苦 (eat bitterness) and sun-grazed heartache.
You forget your childhood
but your mother-tongue clings and clenches.
My grandmother used to say that the moon is bigger here
but, maybe it hangs lower in the night sky
either way, the people in this country are blessed
by the tides and its gods
dollar-fed and numbed
by shopping malls and car ownership
so you forget about your homesickness and your home.
What is love if not discovering
your dream was a parched hallucination
borne from too many hours standing wide-eyed
and still rising ferocious at daybreak.
Re-skinned in standard-issue Mary Janes
the single black blouse you own
you swallow your furies at the doorway of China Star
but they crouch among fumes at your throat.
You forget what you used to smell like.
My grandmother used to haggle at supermarkets
sprinkling finger-numerals into her enunciated Chinese.
We share the same colors, she used to say, variations on a green.
We worship the same demons and the love of a good deal.
You forget the red patriotism tied around your neck.
You learned to ignite kerosene-silences at midnight
embrace white salvation and Bible study
stomach shame and hold hope on your tongue
bake cheesecake instead of plastic Tupperware
vanish into Vietnamese or Chinese or Pan-Asian or
what they really mean to say is Oriental
(because what is the difference anyway?)
What is love if not disappearing so that I can be seen?
we’re all mad here
I haven’t cried lately. Long enough to forget
dreams of endlessness, of cockatoos,
of circles, of crimson. I live quietly
as if I’ve aged all my years in this year.
I worry about roadside strays and
whether the people I pass on the street
hate me. The sun-strewn miles grow
into the stillness between us, the landscape
of freckles on my cheekbones, this expansive
emptiness. A colored woman’s road trip
through a country waiting for me
to go home.
Birds grow louder as you travel south—
bluejays and cardinals, innocent
to the carelessness of legs and elbows,
wooden canes and broken rocks. I wake up mute,
my mouth swallowed by gunshot wounds, my eyes
eclipsed by the faces of mothers and
their motherless sons.
You should try just worrying about yourself,
someone I’ve never liked tells me. I lose my mind
and wonder if she’s right.
for i have sinned
I hold myself in the gaze of paintings
across the room. There’s an incoherence to my alphabet,
a dissonance to my face. My angles awaken angry
howling in my bones. I smolder inside
a hot blue that flames and falters, but never extinguishes.
The dazzle of pain blooms into sunburst until
I am all sunflower in desert heat, lopsided
and full of incoherent grace. These days,
I drink pond water to stay alive;
swallow the fate of fruit flies; feed
our half-deities and the cosmos stale bread
and rain-disheveled promises. I find meaning
in consumption and catalogs and coincidences.
Cloaked in purgatory or perdition,
all my fortune tellers are blind. I keep a list
of all the days we make each other cry. Every time I see
a calla lily in the wild, I tell you that it is the fiercest
of flowers: it always finds a way, a clean heart
singular in its grace, its indignant fury.
Do you understand me?
In another life, I’d like to know God again
or renounce him with passionate piety.
i wonder whether sorrow is earthbound
Life here has never felt the weight of living. I could blow away
in the Santa Ana winds. The devil finds you
before you find him; this is the closest to nothing
I’ve ever become. Every time, I think:
this is how I slip away—disappear
I cast off my anchors and my self
without preamble or protest, without
so much as twitch of muscle
in blue flames. I keep telling myself:
I’ll put my whole heart into it next time!
But the truth is
I’m waiting for it to come back to me
find the courage to cross the threshold
and join me in purgatory with all my ghosts
and nothing holy. Here
is a moonless thunderstorm
above the soul of solitude
where faceless furies quake
and lift me
above the stratosphere. Here
are my cold hands
if only you could see yourself
I imagine you young
riding your fixed-gear bicycle through Park Slope
sun-licked hair lace around your eyes. I can almost
remember our scapulas kissing
under the embers of your half-extinguished cigarette
our daddy-long fingers already
mirroring each other. We flicker past each other
in the gold of our glimmer. Any past lives
we’ll live disappear
and full-throated happiness—
red in my breast—
stains the threads of my solo song.
Instead, we found each other tired
everything takes longer to heal these days
we listen to less music now and
my body is lived in. I’m tired
of this barren face
I’ve carried around
all these years. It’s easier now
to tell the truth
than to pretend. I realize
my mortality every day. I seem
closest to burning every day. I am
a fistful of feathers. If I lean in
close enough, I can hear the sadness
in your smile lines, in the vibrations
of the stars.
ribcages and clavicles, the most beautiful
thing about you, someone once said.
Salvation is sometimes brutal
a saving grace that breaks bones—but
grace, all the same. We embrace
our whole-hearted madness
rehearsed into memory. I am a voyeur
of your ghosts, a wound without translation.
until we run out of nostalgia
our toes poised on the precipice
of something that dazzles darker. I find
a seedling of luck in your hair; my eyes
have always been omnipresent
hidden in sun-beams and silent rhythms.
You ask me to believe—
in destiny, in duets, or at least
in anatomies that harmonize.
Lilian Caylee Wang
Lilian Caylee Wang won a writing contest as a five-year-old in Tennessee. Since then, she's eaten countless PB&J sandwiches, created an anthology of the lives of San Francisco's homeless, fallen in love with people and places, written essays about culture and food, and become a poet. Her work has been published in the Huffington Post, Whetstone Magazine, The New York Times, Honey Literary, Five Points, and more. Currently, she works as a product designer and lives in Venice with her fiancé and her puppy.